WHAT TO DO IF THE POLICE CONTACT YOU
The police want to talk to me...now what?
As a criminal defense lawyer, I frequently get calls from clients who start off the conversation by saying “I’m not sure if I should have talked to them but I talked to a detective earlier today about an investigation.” At this point in the conversation, I already know that the person has already done something that I would not advise. The simple and quick tip I would give anyone is to not speak to any member of law enforcement without the assistance of an attorney. There are very good reasons Miranda rights exist and are read to anyone who is arrested. They begin with the following:
You have the right to remain silent.
Anything you say can and will be used against you.
You have the right to an attorney.
Despite these warnings, criminal defendants who have been arrested will still often talk to the police without the assistance of a defense attorney. So, it is unsurprising that people who have not been arrested yet and are not read these rights decide to talk to law enforcement on their own.
Typically, there are a few primary reasons I hear as to why people decide to speak with a police officer without an attorney. Below, I have listed the actual statements I have heard over the years. After each statement, I have included a more detailed explanation of why it is still not a reason to talk to the cops without representation.
1. “I felt like I had to talk to them because it was the police.”
Nobody ever “has to” talk to the police. Often, a detective will attempt to make it appear that way, but the reality is that you have an absolute right to remain silent. The police can’t arrest you just based upon your refusal to talk to them.
2. “I wanted to explain my side of the story because the situation was more complicated than they made it sound, and they said they wanted to hear my side of the story.”
I have two issues with this reasoning. First, the reality is that the police and prosecution will believe the statements that you make that hurt you and will not believe the statement that you make defending yourself. As an example, let’s say you are accused of punching someone in the face and you explain that you did so in self-defense. The police and prosecution will use that statement as an admission that you punched someone but will not necessarily believe that it was done in self-defense. Second, even if it makes sense to give a statement of explanation, that statement should be reviewed and provided by an attorney, not the individual on their own.
3. “They told me that if I confessed, then they would take it easy on me and maybe not even pursue charges.”
The reality is that the police can lie to you in order to get you to make a statement. They can tell you that they have fingerprints, eyewitnesses, DNA etc. even if none of that is true. The leniency claim is another example of this. The reality is that it is up to a prosecutor or judge to decide whether a case is filed and what sort of punishment is appropriate.
4. “I thought they would think I was guilty if I hired a lawyer.”
Prosecutors and police understand that the sensible thing to do is to hire an attorney. In fact, I have represented former police officers and current lawyers who hired me in these same situations. Hiring an attorney will not be used against you in court or in the investigation of the case.
5. “I didn’t do anything wrong, so I didn’t see the harm in talking to them.”
This statement is understandable in a perfectly fair world. Ideally, nobody would ever face charges when they are not guilty. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world and people are accused and charged of crimes every day when they are innocent. An important point to remember is that if the police are contacting you, they already may believe that you did something wrong. This may be based on lies or a poor investigation, but it is foolish to speak before you know what they are basing their investigation on. They will not give you the benefit of the doubt, so do not give them the benefit of thinking that this will be a fair process.
Every specific criminal investigation is different. As a former prosecutor in Los Angeles and Orange County, I am extremely familiar with the importance of hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney as early in the process as possible. Please reach out to me immediately for a free consultation right away, so that I can learn the details of your situation and offer some initial advice. Time is always of the utmost importance in criminal investigations.